Blocks of background colour can help group similar items or separate reporting elements like sidebars.

Text intended for narrative reading should be set in black or dark grey on a white or very light background.

Colour choices in reports, slides, and graphs should be intentional. Too often the colour scheme is the default one chosen by a software program. But colour changes indicate meaning changes to our readers, so we must be thoughtful about the use of colour. Given that, you have many colour choices.

Colour considerations

Action colour

An action colour can draw attention to key parts of your reporting. Use it as the background for call-out boxes or on an important line in a line graph, for example. Action colours work best when the surrounding information is in grayscale. For example, every bar in a bar graph would be gray, except for the one that needs attention, which would be in your action colour. Because action colours draw the viewer’s eye, only apply them to things that really need focus (not, say, on the page number).

Diverging colours

Colours have cultural meanings associated with them. While tricky to navigate, this can work to our advantage when reporting. In many cultures, red is considered a warning colour, communicating negativity or caution. Blue is often interpreted as a positive colour. Thus, it can be helpful to assign these colours to the poles of a Likert-based stacked bar chart, for example, where reds would be assigned to Strongly Disagree and Disagree and blues would be Agree and Strongly Agree.

Organisational colours

Yet another way to use colour is to integrate brand colours from your organisation or your client’s organisation. You may find an organisational branding guide with an entire colour palette already created that can serve your reporting needs. Or you may choose to pull from that palette when selecting an action colour or creating a sequential colour scheme.

Colour cautions

Some colours do not contrast well when reprinted in black and white. Test a critical page or two by printing it in black and white and then making a black and white copy of that printed page.

Also, check to ensure your colour scheme is accessible for people who have colour vision deficiency or colour blindness. Many drawing and design programs include a colour accessibility checker. You can also check that your colour choices are accessible using online apps, such as Adobe colour.




'Colour' is referenced in: